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MLAs’ call for review of golf club plan hailed

An Assembly call for a fresh review of a golf club planning row has been warmly welcomed by a group of residents opposing the bid.

Stormont's Environment Committee has requested an independent assessment of the Knock Golf Club planning case in east Belfast.

The request has gone to Minister Edwin Poots after months of deliberations by MLAs.

A spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment (DoE) said: “The minister is giving the Environment Committee's request due consideration.”

Planning chiefs have been defending their controversial approval recommendation for a large-scale housing development on the golf course land.

The proposed development has attracted attention because of the support of DUP leader Peter Robinson for the scheme — and for the fact that a planning official recorded his personal view that approval should be denied.

The DoE’s Planning Service has maintained that it has followed its own policies and procedures in dealing with the application.

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SDLP MLA John Dallat, who tabled the Environment Committee resolution, said: “I feel there was no option but to seek an independent review because the information we received from the DoE was very disappointing.

“We simply wanted straight answers to straight questions but did not receive any.”

Objecting group, the Dundonald Green Belt Association, hailed the committee's move as significant.

A spokesman for the association said: “The Planning Service has twice, at great length, endeavoured to justify its conduct in this affair to the committee.

“The committee has made clear that it is not satisfied with these explanations.”

He added: “This decision will be welcomed in many quarters, not just in Dundonald. It will be welcomed by everyone in Northern Ireland who cares about keeping our parks and open spaces free from development.

“It will also be welcomed by many within the Planning Service, who have had their own reservations about the service's conduct in this matter.”

The association also said it had submitted a 38-point critique to the committee of evidence given on the case by DoE Planning Service.

It was revealed earlier this year that a planning official had signed off on the case, adding that he remained “of the opinion that this application should be refused”.

Planning Service deliberations came down on the side of approval, despite there being five planning guideline grounds for refusal.

It has been justified by officials on the basis of social benefit from the development.

The DoE stressed to the Environment Committee in March that a final approval had still to be issued.

Supporters of the development have included Mr Robinson and his Castlereagh councillor son Gareth.

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